Citizen Architect - Jenna Fribley, AIA

In another life, Jenna Fribley must have been an archeologist or historian, but today she is an architect, interior designer, teacher, realtor, commissioner, board member, entrepreneur, and community advocate. After establishing her own firm in Springfield, Oregon, Fribley has become a relentless force behind the revitalization of downtown Springfield. Through her firm and activism, she has worked to excite community members about Springfield’s history—and its future. As a citizen architect, Fribley also has helped address the region’s affordable housing shortage.

Jenna Fribley is principal and co-founder of Campfire Collaborative: Architecture & Design, a Springfield, Oregon–based firm that received the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region 2020 Emerging Firm Award. Fribley earned her M.Arch from the University of Oregon, where she is now a career instructor. She is past president of AIA Southwestern Oregon and currently serves on the Lane County Intergovernmental Housing Policy Board, Springfield Historic Commission, Springfield History Museum Committee, and the board of the Springfield Renaissance Development Corporation. A co-founder of the Booth Kelly Makers District, Fribley was named the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Leader in 2019, an award that recognizes an individual who has risen to prominence through community engagement and demonstrates a great potential to positively impact the Springfield community for years to come.

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Jenna Fribley and her business partner, Kelsey Buzzell, Assoc. AIA, chose downtown Springfield as the home of their practice, Campfire Collaborative: Architecture & Design, intending to support the downtown revitalization effort.  

“We knew we could make a difference here,” Fribley said. “A lot of young designers move to a larger city because they want an urban experience, but you end up being a really small fish in a big pond. By immersing ourselves in downtown Springfield, we knew we could make a tangible impact and contribute in a way that was rewarding.”

Once Fribley and Buzzell moved in, they realized there were makers, fabricators, and creators all around them but no formal—or even informal—organization to support them. “There was no ‘creative district,’ so we decided to make one!” said Fribley.

The Booth Kelly Makers District, established by Fribley, Buzzell, and other locals in early 2017, is a community, destination, and resource for local artisans and entrepreneurs. The group is named after the historic Booth-Kelly Mill, founded in 1896, which catalyzed the settlement and growth of Springfield around the lumber industry. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Booth Kelly Makers District hosted in-person meetups where individuals could network, share project ideas and challenges, and find opportunities to collaborate.

After setting up shop for a year in an off-the-beaten-path coworking space, Fribley and Buzzell moved the Campfire studio to a storefront on Main Street where the core of Springfield’s revitalization was happening. “With that move came an even greater sense of responsibility and desire to participate actively,” said Fribley. “We thought more about how we could engage the community, how we could make design more accessible to the general public, and how we could get people excited about what is going on in Springfield.”

Springfield’s Design Resource Center (DRC), hosted by Campfire Collaborative, was born out of that desire. The DRC is a space where community members—from new homeowners to established business owners—can access materials samples and informational resources during drop-in hours and engage with designers to brainstorm their project ideas. “Infusing design into everyday spaces has the potential to positively impact people’s daily lives,” says Fribley. “The ultimate goal is to build public awareness and appreciation of design by giving attention to projects that may not otherwise receive it.”

Fribley’s vision for Springfield’s revitalization includes a civic responsibility “to identify and protect the historic fabric of the city in a manner that is compatible with future growth and development.” In her work with local building and business owners, Fribley has—almost literally—peeled back the layers of Springfield’s history. For example, many of the downtown buildings originally featured storefront transom windows that had been covered over, masking their architectural character and charm. “The memory of these windows had been lost,” Fribley explained. “We are trying to uncover that and pay homage to the historic character of what was here, so we don’t lose it forever.”

Fribley often salvages artifacts from the buildings she works in and shares these “treasures” with the Springfield History Museum as part of her efforts to discover and preserve the city's history. She is also working with the museum to create a 3D digital platform that highlights historic points of interest and illustrates how Springfield’s downtown community evolved. Fribley said she hopes this project will build pride in the city’s historic assets and foster collective community interest in its stewardship.

Like the parent who changes education policy by running for the school board, Fribley believes architects need to step in whatever way they can and on whatever issue they are passionate about.

“When it comes to something like the transom windows, I didn’t know who else was going to do it,” Fribley said. “City officials don’t necessarily have the time to dive as deep as we do into the history of this place. Architects are creative problem-solvers. When you mix that mindset and skillset with a passion for serving the community, the opportunities to plug in and use your powers for good are endless.”

Fribley’s advocacy efforts also extend to an issue plaguing all regions of the United States: affordable housing. Fribley serves on the Lane County Intergovernmental Housing Policy Board, which develops affordable housing policy for the Springfield-Eugene area. Campfire Collaborative has developed micro-housing for people transitioning out of the shelter system or at risk of homelessness. Fribley has worked with local jurisdictions to reform land use codes to allow for middle housing (accessory dwelling units, duplexes, and triplexes) that provide additional options for affordable housing.

Architects interested in making an impact can start anywhere, Fribley advised. “Simply engage. Be present and visible in your community, and step up to help where it is needed,” she said. “Show up at community events, share insights at city council meetings, and get a sense of who the community leaders and activists are and how their organizations implement change.”

If interested in government service, Fribley advised that architects start by networking and learning about the unique issues facing their neighborhood or community. “If you want to serve on a board, committee, or commission, you should attend a few meetings to determine which body is most suited to your interests and skills,” she said. “If they are not actively recruiting board members, offer to help on a subcommittee in the meantime. Once you have made yourself visible, you will likely not have any trouble finding opportunities to be involved.”

- As told to Kerrie Rushton

Image credits

Jenna Fribley

Courtesy of Jenna Fribley, AIA